People with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss compared to those without diabetes.*
Diabetes and Hearing Loss; Silent Partners
Hearing loss and diabetes are two prevalent health issues that impact millions of people in Canada. While they may seem unrelated at first glance, a closer look reveals a significant and often overlooked connection between the two.
Hearing loss doesn’t merely affect our ability to hear; it has also been linked to conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression, and even dementia. Conversely, certain health issues, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes, have been found to be closely linked to hearing loss, and in some cases, they can even cause it.
Among these health concerns, diabetes stands out due to its prevalence in Canada and its significant impact on hearing health.
Shared Risk Factors
One of the key aspects of the hearing loss-diabetes connection is the presence of shared risk factors. These risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing both conditions simultaneously. Some common risk factors include:
- Age: Both hearing loss and diabetes become more prevalent as individuals age. This demographic overlap underscores the importance of monitoring hearing health, especially in older adults with diabetes.
- Cardiovascular Health: Cardiovascular issues, such as high blood pressure and heart disease, are common risk factors for diabetes. These same cardiovascular problems can impact the blood flow to the inner ear, potentially contributing to hearing loss.
- Blood Sugar Levels: Uncontrolled blood sugar levels are a hallmark of diabetes. Elevated glucose levels can have a damaging effect on the delicate blood vessels in the inner ear, potentially leading to hearing impairment.
- Falling: Your risk of falling increases with every 10dB of hearing loss. It can be due to shared damage to the vestibular system, increased cognitive load or reduced spatial awareness. Diabetes also independently increases your risk of falling due to factors like impaired vision from retinopathy and balance problems related to foot neuropathy. These factors may compound with hearing loss.
Mechanisms at Play
Understanding how diabetes can contribute to hearing loss involves examining the intricate mechanisms within the body:
- Damage to Inner Ear: Diabetes can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, which, over time, can cause damage to small blood vessels within the inner ear. These components are highly dependent on healthy blood supply.
- Nerve Damage: In some cases, diabetes can result in diabetic neuropathy, which affects the nerves throughout the body, including those related to hearing. If for example, the auditory nerve is damaged, it may struggle to transmit signals from the ear to the brain.
The Importance of Early Detection
The silver lining in this connection is that having one condition can lead to the earlier detection of the other. Unfortunately, many people managing diabetes overlook the importance of regular hearing tests. Early detection and treatment of both diabetes and hearing loss can significantly improve treatment outcomes over time.
Proactive Approaches to Managing Diabetes and Hearing Loss
Early intervention is crucial for living a fulfilling life connected to friends and family. Here’s how to proactively manage both conditions:
- Manage Your Diabetes: Control and maintain healthy blood sugar levels to help prevent inner ear damage and other harmful effects of diabetes.
- Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle: Regular exercise and a balanced diet are essential for managing diabetes. Physical activity naturally lowers glucose levels, reduces stress, and helps control blood pressure. A diabetes-specific meal plan can help you maintain a healthy weight and regulate blood sugar levels, particularly for those managing type 2 diabetes.
- Take Medication as Prescribed: If you’re managing type 1 diabetes, ensure you take your medication as prescribed by a healthcare professional.
- Schedule a Hearing Test: The CDC recommends annual hearing assessment for diabetics. Don’t overlook the importance of an annual hearing test with a trusted professional as this is often not included in routine diabetes care but is very important. You can also take an online hearing test in the comfort of your home within minutes to establish a baseline. If hearing loss is detected, explore available options during a no-obligation consultation.
By addressing both diabetes and hearing loss proactively, you can significantly enhance your overall quality of life, maintain cognitive function, and enjoy meaningful connections with loved ones.
* Bainbridge KE et al. Ann Intern Med. 2008; 149: 1-10